This article is written by Hassan Sindyan, and was originally published in Raseef22 on January 5, 2024. An edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.
“We entered the battle on the second day of the war on Gaza, and Operation Al-Aqsa Storm was 100 percent Palestinian in terms of both decision and execution.”
With this statement made on November 3, 2023, the leader of Lebanese Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, declared Lebanon's participation in Operation Al-Aqsa Storm against Israel, almost a month after Hezbollah targeted Israeli military sites in southern Lebanon on October 8. The battle took on a specific geographical form, with defined rules of engagement, and is referred to as Operation Isnad (support) for Hamas.
Nasrallah denied Hezbollah involvement in the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. However, in the week following October 7, clashes escalated between Hezbollah and Israel, reaching a point where Israel started targeting civilians in the south of Lebanon.
On October 13, Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah was killed by an Israeli rocket in Lebanon, and a number of his colleagues sustained injuries.
In his highly anticipated speech, Nasrallah emphasized that the expansion of the war depended on Israel's actions towards Lebanon. Since October 8, 140 members of Hezbollah have been killed, along with numerous civilians and journalists, and 74,000 civilians have been displaced from southern Lebanon — the human toll has been significant.
A developing scene
As clashes intensified in South of Lebanon, along the Lebanon–Israel border, various internal political maneuvers were undertaken to prevent dragging Lebanon into a comprehensive war. However, there are no guarantees to stop the war.
The intensity of the clashes heightened when Hezbollah introduced new weapons in early November, including drones, and targeted settlements in Israel. This occurred as part of a series of operations on October 15, involving missiles into western Galilee, amid escalating clashes between Israel and Hezbollah.
Subsequently, on December 4, 2023, Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood, an armed resistance unit of Hamas, was established to recruit fighters, creating an alternative or additional arena for the leaders and members of Hamas outside of Gaza. This initiative is expected to receive political and field support from the leadership of Hezbollah, with the aim of testing its role as a key player on the Lebanese stage in the coming phase.
The establishment of this new branch of Hamas faced significant backlash within Lebanon, with many viewing it a violation of Lebanese sovereignty.
There were warnings about the potential to repeat past scenarios, such as those involving the Palestine Liberation Organization, and fears of Israel repeating its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. These concerns coincided with statements by the head of the Israeli internal security apparatus, Ronen Bar, on the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, in which he threatened to pursue Hamas leaders in both Lebanon and Turkey, even if this were to take years.
A political solution as an alternative?
In parallel with the escalation, efforts were initiated to cool down the southern front. In late December, Western diplomats intensified their efforts to implement UN Resolution 1701, aiming to quell the hostilities along Lebanon and Israel's shared border. This involved preparing the conditions for executing the UN resolution 1701 and resolving the dispute over seven out of 13 points of the resolution, in exchange for recognizing the Shebaa Farms and securing Hezbollah's withdrawal “behind the Litani River.”
This proposal is set to be discussed with the first mediator, Amos Hochstein, energy advisor to the US president. Hochstein returned to Beirut last week to mediate between Lebanon and Israel and determine the land borders between the two countries, as disclosed by the US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, during her farewell tour of Lebanon last December.
Meanwhile, Israel demands that Hezbollah pulls its forces, at least the elite troops away from the border to facilitate the return of 80,000 settlers, who have vacated the north for fear from Hezbollah, and are not willing to come back unless that is settled politically.
According to Israeli Minister Yoav Gallant, during an interview on Israeli Army Radio on December 7, Israel considered a military maneuver to push Hezbollah away from the borders.
On December 26, Israel assassinated Reza Mousavi, a senior advisor in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, responsible for coordinating proxy forces in Syria, in an airstrike on the outskirts of Damascus. For years, Israel has carried out attacks against what it describes as Iran-linked targets in Syria.
In a press conference held on December 28, Israeli Cabinet member Benny Gantz threatened to carry out a wide-ranging military operation in the south of Lebanon against Hezbollah.
Next on Israel's list of targets was Salah al-Arouri, a Hamas leader residing in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Al-Arouri was deputy head of the political bureau of Hamas and the movement's leader in the West Bank.
He was assassinated on January 2, 2024, by a drone attack on the movement's office in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The attack resulted in the deaths of two leaders and four members of Hamas, and several injured.
Al-Arouri is described as the “architect” of Hamas's attacks in the occupied West Bank against Israeli soldiers and settlers. He is accused by Israel of launching rockets from both Gaza and Lebanon. His assassination has led to the suspension of negotiations on a prisoner exchange deal, and Israeli forces on the Lebanese border have since been on high alert.
Reassurance in Israel… What about Lebanon?
Lebanon has been in a state of tension and fear following the assassination of Al-Arouri, in Beirut. This incident could serve as a warning amid heightened concerns of escalating the conflict after Israel violated the rules of engagement. The situation raises concerns about Hezbollah’s response, and whether Lebanon will be drawn into a comprehensive regional war, which analysts believe is Netanyahu's goal.
The Lebanese public sought these answers in Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on January 3. Marking the fourth anniversary of the assassination of former commander of the Revolutionary Guard Qassem Soleimani, Nasrallah stated that the assassination of Al-Arouri would not go unanswered or without punishment.
Regarding Lebanon being dragged into a comprehensive war, Nasrallah stated that Israel would determine this through their reaction, saying, “In the event of the enemy waging war on Lebanon, our fight will have no limits, boundaries, rules, or restrictions.”
On the other hand, Lebanese political analyst Qassem Qassir told Raseef22 that the assassination of Al-Arouri was a response to Israeli military failure, and an attempt to shift the battle outside Gaza.
Qassir considers that “Nasrallah deliberately absorbed the results of the operation by focusing on the outcomes of the battle of Al-Aqsa Storm and Israel's defeat on the field.” He concludes:
The location and nature of the response cannot be determined because it is linked to the conditions on the arena. However, it is clear that Hezbollah will not slide into a major confrontation or war unless Israeli aggression advances.